French traditions and customs I miss when I’m abroad

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My favourite French traditions and customs! Nostalgia is on! Today, I’ll share with you the typical French customs that I miss the most as a French expat living abroad!

I’ve lived in different countries and I’m now in Brazil for the past 2 years or so. Wherever I am, it is more or less always the same things from French culture that I miss. 

We’re going to embark on French traditions that hold a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait to share them with you. OK, let’s dive right in!

Apéro – A Pre-Dinner Ritual

In France, the art of savouring life is not limited to just mealtime. 

The “apéro” is a cherished pre-meal ritual that brings friends and family together to unwind and enjoy some delicious bites before the meal begins. It’s a time to relax, catch up on each other’s lives, and share laughter over a glass of French wine, beer or a refreshing cocktail. 

It is the prelude to the traditional French meal and French cuisine. It could be before lunch (usually taken on weekends but not only) or before dinner either at home or in bars and restaurants.
I miss the casual atmosphere during “apéro” – the joy of nibbling on olives, charcuterie, and artisanal cheeses with baguette while engaging in heartfelt conversations.

You can even have an “apéro dinatoire” which is a more elaborate apéro that will be filled with food, enough to fill you for dinner. A bit like a more casual French dinner party.

French traditions galette des rois

Galette des Rois – The King Cake

One of the sweetest traditions in France is the celebration of Epiphany on January 6th, with the Galette des Rois, or King Cake. This delightful pastry, filled with almond cream, is crowned with a golden paper crown. The excitement of cutting the cake and discovering the hidden “fève” (a small trinket) that makes someone the king or queen for the day is truly magical. 

The tradition says that the youngest present, the most innocent around the table, should go under the table to designate who will get the next cake slice. 

This is a family event that is also repeated among friends or even at work. You’ll find Galette des Rois of different sorts all along the month of January.

Chandeleur – The Crêpe Day

Another tradition pagan tradition revived by the Catholic religion and of course revolving around food! French people celebrate la Chandeleur, or Candlemas, on February 2nd. Even though it is not a French holiday, it’s all about crêpes!

I miss the aroma of buttery crêpes filling the air and the excitement of trying various sweet and savoury fillings – from classic sugar and lemon to Nutella and cheese, ham and egg. Chandeleur is a culinary adventure that sparks joy and brings loved ones closer together.

Fête de la Musique – The Music Festival

The “Fête de la Musique” is a music festival celebrated on June 21st throughout France, the summer solstice, where musicians and artists perform free shows in the streets and public spaces across France.

On this day, the streets of France come alive with the sounds of music as musicians of all genres perform for free. It’s a celebration of music’s universal language, and I miss the vibrant atmosphere, the energy of the crowd, and the sheer diversity of musical talents on display. Fête de la Musique reminds me of the power of music to unite people and create unforgettable memories.

La Fête des Lumières – The Festival of Lights

La Fête des Lumières, or the Festival of Lights, is a breathtaking local tradition celebrated in Lyon every December 8th. It is now a 4-days event during which buildings, streets, and monuments are illuminated with mesmerising light displays, creating a magical spectacle. I miss the enchanting ambience of Lyon during this winter festival, the warmth of the glowing lanterns, and the joy of exploring the city’s transformed streets with family and friends.

Café Culture

Ah, the French café culture! There’s something magical about sipping a café au lait or an espresso at a cosy French café. The art of people-watching and engaging in deep conversations with friends over a cup of coffee is truly special.

It’s a time-honoured tradition that fosters connections and slows down the pace of life, if only for a moment. I miss the unique ambience, the elegant cafés with their rattan chairs, and the warmth of the community that thrives in these places.

Les Marchés – Local Markets

French local markets, or “les marchés,” are a treasure trove of delights. From fresh fruits and vegetables to artisanal products and crafts, these markets are a feast for the senses. They are the best introduction to French cooking! I miss strolling through the colourful stalls, interacting with the friendly vendors, and discovering unique items that reflect the region’s culture and traditions. The sense of community and the focus on sustainable, locally sourced products are aspects that I truly miss when I’m away from France.

And there you have it – a journey through my most cherished traditions that tug at my heartstrings as a French expat living overseas. Each tradition is a beautiful testament to the French way of life, centred around enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

And if you have any favourite French traditions or memories, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

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